Paul L. Caron

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Although Courts Have Dismissed Many Of The 300+ COVID-19 Tuition Refund Lawsuits, Dozens Are Proceeding Toward Trial; Colleges Have Settled Two Of The Cases And Paid Millions In Damages

Inside Higher Ed, Courts Skeptical on COVID-19 Tuition Lawsuits:

In the year since COVID-19 forced most colleges and universities to shut their physical campuses, lawyers have filed more than 300 cases on behalf of students and parents demanding refunds of tuition for educations they deemed to be either substandard or not what they were promised.

While judges have dismissed many of those cases, finding them to be without merit or to fail to state a legitimate legal claim, dozens of other courts have given the plaintiffs preliminary victories by allowing the lawsuits to go to trial -- and at least two colleges have agreed to pay millions of dollars to settle lawsuits.

On balance, though, most legal experts agree that the tuition reimbursement cases face a generally uphill climb in the courts -- because judges give institutions broad latitude to determine the quality of their education and tend to dismiss claims of educational "malpractice."

The courts thus far have proven somewhat more open to considering lawsuits alleging that colleges have breached their contracts with students and families -- though those cases will rise or fall based on situation-specific facts of how clearly a college promised that the education would be delivered in person.

"These are going to be tough cases to make," says Barry G. Burgdorf, special counsel at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and former vice chancellor and general counsel at the University of Texas system. "There's still the possibility that a few of them squeak through and get to a trial, though."

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